The legislative process, in all its messy splendor, was on full display yesterday on the floor of the House.
Members staggered back into session at 10 a.m., little more than eight hours after completing their work of the day and night before. That work included pulling the fiscal rug from under the federal government, technically leaving it without authority to spend.
Who could tell what surprises the new day would bring?
Whatever they might be, it was clear from the outset that the House was in a hurry. By 11:30 a.m., voices on the floor were urging that members "vote, vote." It would still take hours, stretching into the night, before the business was complete, but what someone called "the recess express" was clearly headed down the track.
The issues change, but the House is like this almost every year at the end of the session, when members are eager to adjourn for the holidays.
"In the last week of a session, lots of major pieces of legislation finally boil up to the catharsis point," Rep. Hal Daub (R-Neb.) said. "There's a kind of churning."
A Republican aide put it another way. "Jingle-bell fever," he called it.
This year, most of the churning revolved around spending and tax revision. Things really heated up Monday when President Reagan and his entourage went to the Hill for a last-minute appeal to rebellious Republicans, whose opposition had blocked consideration of the tax measure last week.
By early yesterday morning, the administration had lined up enough GOP votes to assure consideration of the tax bill, although not necessarily its passage. But the rebellious mood was spreading.
Late Monday, 120 House Democrats joined 119 Republicans in unexpectedly rejecting a stopgap funding measure to keep the federal government functioning while Congress tries to work its way out of its end-of-session chaos. This added to the general churning, and prompted Rep. Lynn M. Martin (R-Ill.) to remark that keeping the House in session late at night was like "managing a nursery without a nap."
As the House prepared to meet yesterday, Republicans accused Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) of "upping the ante" in his demands for Republican support of the tax-revision legislation. O'Neill had told Reagan he needed at least 50 GOP votes to win consideration of the measure, but now was saying he needed more than that to assure passage of the bill. Democrats responded that concessions made to assure those 50 Republican votes on the procedural vote might cost them Democratic support in voting for the bill itself.
"None of the Republican leaders seems to be for the bill," O'Neill's press secretary, Christopher J. Matthews, quoted him as telling Reagan in a telephone conversation Monday night. "Cheney and Lott Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming and Republican Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi are kicking the bejeezers out of this bill . . . . I need more than 50 votes on the bill."
Matthews took special aim at Cheney, who was leading the charge against the legislation. "Cheney has been unleashed," Matthews said. "He's been told it's okay for his political career to attack the president, and he's doing it."
"I didn't know I had ever been leashed," Cheney replied.
By 10 last night, 12 hours after it started, the House was ready for the climax of the great tax-revision battle of 1985. Bells rang, summoning members to the floor, while outside the chamber Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and chief architect of the tax bill, stood smiling broadly.
"Why shouldn't I be happy?" he said in response to a question. "I think we've got a shot at this."
Inside the chamber, members were growing restive. When Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) described the tax benefits in the Ways and Means legislation, the Democrats cheered wildly. And when he described what he said were even larger benefits in the GOP alternative, the Republicans erupted in applause. "The time of the gentleman has expired," Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), the presiding officer during the debate, told Vander Jagt. And both sides cheered.
Maybe it was because it was almost over that they cheered everything at the end. Both sides stood and applauded as Rostenkowski strode to his seat after making his final appeal for passage of the bill. They stood and cheered again for Natcher when he finished.
Then it ended abruptly, the tax bill passing on a voice vote at 11 p.m. In 13 hours yesterday, the House had approved sweeping tax-revision legislation, and with the concurrence of the Senate had kept the government functioning until midnight Thursday by passing a new stopgap funding measure.
Permanent funding legislation and the farm bill remained, but those would come up another day -- another day closer to adjournment.